“Deeds not creeds!”
“I don’t need theology, I just love people!”
“I believe in the resurrection, and nothing else matters after that!”
Nearly everyone has heard statements like these. Perhaps some of us have used them ourselves. These words may even have been spoken by a brother or sister who is gung-ho and witnessing all the time. In some respect, I can sympathize with such words. What’s the point of sitting around debating supralapsarianism verses infralapsarianism if meanwhile people outside are dying and going to hell? Sure, I confess I have wasted a lot of precious time in worthless debates, and have often debated out of pride rather than edifying the others in the discussion. However, these are not excuses for being lax about truth or indifferent about theology.
Truly, everybody holds at least some theological positions. In fact, a statement like, “Deeds not creeds,” contains theology. Do you believe that committing adultery is sin? That’s theology. Clearly theology also matters when it comes to salvation. Who is Jesus Christ? What did the cross accomplish? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? What must I do to be saved? If we get any of these questions wrong, we are going to hell. That matters! So if we are on fire for God and evangelizing all the time but we give people the wrong information, we are doing no good but are instead causing a lot of damage.
This post shall show how doctrine is inescapable and invaluable in the Christian life. The next post will show, using examples, that correct doctrine leads to godly living, and that a correct understand of theology inspires good deeds rather than hindering them. But first, before showing that this view is inconsistent, let us first go through some passages concerning doctrine which shatter this view up front. For the sake of time and space, we shall limit our inquiry to the Evangelist Epistles (“Pastoral” Epistles is a misnomer, for Timothy and Titus were evangelists). Paul has a lot to say about sound doctrine to these church planters and leaders. In these passages we learn that if believers are to grow in their faith, clearly the truth must be preached and false teaching must be stopped immediately.
“In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following” (1 Tim. 4:6). If Timothy is to be a “good servant,” being faithful to the One who commissioned him, he is to teach doctrine. To what was Paul referring to by “these things”? First, he was to warn his hearers concerning false teachers to come (1 Tim. 4:1-3). Second, he was to give them a proper understanding concerning God’s blessings, which would safeguard them from the coming errors in the first place. If somebody comes to your church and starts speaking out against certain foods, or saying that marriage is bad, or that sex except for reproduction is sinful, don’t listen to him! Instead, know that these things are all gifts from God and are not to be forbidden. All things are clean to a believer.
“Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will endure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16). Here we see deeds (“yourself” i.e. your life/conduct) as well as creeds (“and your teaching”). If what he teaches others concerning Christ is not correct, or if he compromises on any teaching he heard from Paul, then he is putting not only himself at risk, but the church over which God placed him. Souls are at sake- “salvation” as Paul puts it.
“If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing” (1 Tim. 6:3-4a). Granted, the people here aren’t exactly the most godly. From the following verses, it seems that these people are greedy and in the ministry for the money. However, this verse still shows Paul’s emphasis on sound doctrine. For it is their theological error that leads them to such wickedness. This verse is also helpful because it points out the importance of doctrines other than just salvation. In the preceding verses he talks about a slave’s submission to his master. And so, God’s order of authority is also of great importance. You could say then that it is proper to separate from egalitarians, or from revolutionist and anarchists. In fact, Peter lists despising authority as a sign of a false prophet (2 Pet. 2:10). So not only should we reject a man who preaches a different Christ, but also one who preaches different “lesser” doctrines as well.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). These two verses are packed with stuff, but let us stay on topic. Despite everything our culture says, this verse teaches that it is okay to reprove and correct somebody. If somebody is straying, we can use the Bible to show them the error of their ways and get them back on track with God. This passage also shows that our “teaching” must be grounded in the Bible. Further, that the Scriptures are sufficient to equip us for every good work. Though many try to separate the deeds from the creeds, yet the Bible in its entirety is all we need to know God’s will for our lives.
“[An overseer must be] holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). Listen to these terms: “faithful word,” “the teaching,” “sound doctrine.” Clearly Paul has a set body of teachings in mind here. Also, as seen above, it is totally fine to “exhort” and to “refute” believers and unbelievers alike who do not line up with “sound doctrine.” A pastor must protect his sheep from wolves. He must not let people who advocate strange teachings in. For their leaven will leaven the whole lump (Gal. 5:9) and spread like gangrene (2 Tim. 2:17). He must squash the heresy right away.
“This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men” (Titus 3:8). Again, to understand the exact doctrine to which Paul refers by “these things,” we must look at the previous context. He just talked about salvation by grace alone in verses 4-7! Paul says that teaching (“speak confidently”) this doctrine will lead to good deeds. The doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone is key to our faith! How many of these “Deeds not creeds” advocates would be willing to evangelize with a Catholic? Sure they are eager to evangelize, but they compromise the very gospel the lost need if they leave out this doctrine.
Therefore, doctrine is a necessity in every believer’s life. One cannot brush off theology and expect to live the Christian life well. In the next post, many examples of this will be shown. Various theological convictions and their implications for everyday life will be shown. This will prove that our creeds are necessary for deeds. Right doctrine will lead to right living.